Dr. Purnell Whittington Choppin
Dr. Purnell Whittington Choppin died Saturday, July 3rd, 2021 of prostate cancer. He was born in Baton Rouge to the late Arthur R. and Eunice Bolin Choppin. He is survived by his wife Joan and his daughter Kathleen. He was preceded in death by his brother, Arthur R. Choppin Jr. A pioneering virologist, Purnell was a proud and loyal graduate of LSU ('49) and the LSU School of Medicine ('53). He graduated at 16 from Baton Rouge High; his yearbook quote was "He profits most who serves best" - he fulfilled that motto the utmost: a great scientific mind, a gifted teacher, and a forward thinking administrator who changed the course of biomedical science. His astounding brain power was paired with totally unaffected humility, his pure joy of life and beautiful smile were infectious and inspiring, and he was just about the best fly fisherman anyone ever saw. In his research at Rockefeller University in New York, he was among the first to demonstrate how spike proteins penetrate cells and release viral genome and infection, which lead to advances in the understanding of viruses as diverse as influenza, HIV, and CoVID-19. At Rockeller he met his beloved wife Joan, with whom he shared a 62 year marriage of extraordinary partnership and devotion. From Rockefeller he moved to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Under his presidency, HHMI developed grant programs for every level of science education, as well as identifying and supporting the talents and discoveries of the world's most innovative and imaginative scientists. Purnell was, as he loved to tell, the only employee of HHMI who actually met Howard Hughes, in Baton Rouge - when Purnell was 9, his father brought his sons to the airfield to see Hughes on a fuel stop during a record setting flight. Purnell died peacefully at home in Washington DC, just before dawn on Saturday, July 3rd, one day before his 92nd birthday. Services will be held at Arlington Cemetery at a later date. Those wishing to make a memorial donation may consider the American Philosophical Society (amphilsoc.org/give) or the Atlantic Salmon Federation (asf.ca/how-to-help/donate).


Published by The Advocate from Jul. 8 to Jul. 10, 2021.
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